with Brent D. Griffiths
DeVos and public schools have long been at war with each other. But the education secretary's weekend comments about the novel coronavirus pandemic have further inflamed tensions between the administration and educators as they debate whether students should be learning full time while physically in school this fall.
The comments have also reignited DeVos's standing as the poster child of everything Democrats find wrong with the Trump presidency as a Michigan billionaire and major Republican donor who lacks experience in the public school system and faced some GOP opposition during the confirmation process. An Education Department spokesperson defended DeVos's record, arguing her work providing guidance and support to schools amid the pandemic started early in March.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told Power Up pressure from Trump and DeVos for a quick reopening of schools — without any specific guidance on how to do so safely during the pandemic — “shows that this administration doesn't care about [voters'] safety and well-being.”
- “We’re going to go all out,” Weingarten said of the political push from the second biggest teachers union in the country to elect former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee versus Trump. “Because this election is about every aspect of our future. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, an economic recession and racial reckoning — all made worse by this administration. We will be out there in as many ways as we can.”
- “We’ll make it clear when it comes time to really focusing on the election, who is on whose side and Betsy DeVos is not on kids, families and educators side and she proved that pretty clearly this weekend,” Weingarten added.
From an Esquire writer:
Senator Professor Warren at a Zoom town hall on reopening schools and going forward.— Charles P. Pierce (@CharlesPPierce) July 13, 2020
“Part 3 — we have to get rid of Betsy DeVos. I have just had it.”
Already a divisive figure, there is perhaps no more motivating a factor than DeVos for educators to turn out against Trump, according to Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers. Mulgrew told Power Up that while DeVos has always been unpopular among educators, her comments over the weekend and threat to pull federal funding from public schools that do not fully reopen cemented her status as “one of the worst secretaries of education in history.”
- “We’ve even had members who supported Trump who say, 'Yeah she's pretty bad,'” said Mulgrew. “Once DeVos was named, if you’re a teacher I don’t care what your political leanings is — you can’t defend her.”
Even after a 69-page internal CDC document obtained by the New York Times revealed reopening schools and colleges remained “the highest risk” for the spread of covid-19, DeVos herself struggled to back up claims her agency “has been working hard the last several months” on a plan to safely reopen. The president on Monday continued to press for in-person learning, telling reporters: “Schools should be opened. Kids want to go to school. You’re losing a lot of lives by keeping things closed.”
Trump's encouragement is explicitly at odds with the current CDC guidance, which he denounced last week as “very tough and expensive.” Four former CDC heads blasted the president and DeVos for undermining the agency's guidelines writing in a Post op-ed this morning: “We cannot recall over our collective tenure a single time when political pressure led to a change in the interpretation of scientific evidence. After Trump's ire, the CDC is expected to issue revised recommendations this week.
Reality check: School systems on the West Coast are moving in the opposite direction with California announcing yesterday Los Angeles and San Diego counties would only have online school this fall as infections surge in the South and West. “'The skyrocketing infection rates of the past few weeks make it clear the pandemic is not under control,' said a joint statement from the Los Angeles and San Diego districts. They said they would return to in-person learning later in the academic year, ‘as soon as public health conditions allow,’” according to our colleague Laura Meckler.
- For someone who has consistently championed states' rights and the loosening of federal mandates, states adhering to Washington guidance also is “diametrically opposite to how she has led the department,” the New York Times's Erica Green points out.
- “We have so politicized the situation we don’t know who we can trust, and it’s become very clear that we can’t trust her,” Keri Rodrigues, the president of the National Parents Union, told Green. “It’s as if the Trump administration gave her one sentence that she was supposed to stick to: Open the economy by any means necessary. Our lives are not valuable to them at all. We are a means to an end. ”
DeVos has downplayed the risk of coronavirus to children. But it's not just students who would be affected if schools fully reopen but teachers and school staff. Research from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that “one in four teachers (24%, or about 1.47 million people), have a condition that puts them at higher risk of serious illness from coronavirus.”
- “This percentage is the same as the one we found for workers overall; the challenge for school systems and for teachers in particular is the sheer volume of traffic and tight quarters in many school environments, which may make social distancing a significant challenge in many settings. For higher-risk teachers, failure to achieve safe working conditions could have very serious results,” according to the study.
Weingarten along with Mulgrew told Power Up they have not received any guidance to pass along to their members from the Education Department about how to reopen schools safely during the pandemic. An Education Department spokesperson disputed their claims, telling Power Up the department “is in constant contact with state and local education leaders about getting students back to school safely.”
“We are not in contact with Democrat operatives,” Angela Morabito added of Weingarten and Mulgrew (who are not Democratic operatives, but whose groups often back Democratic candidates).
- “I haven’t seen anything,” said Weingarten. “We have not gotten a thing — and I’m pretty patched in. This is not a Republican versus Democrat issue. When I was the UFT president in New York City during 9/11, George W. Bush was president and we got a lot of guidance from the federal government about what to do and how to help us.”
- “What is [DeVos] talking about?” said Mulgrew. “We’ve gotten nothing from the Department of Education …. She should have gone out there, looking at guidelines from the[ CDC] and put together a package for schools early … Instead she just comes out and says all schools must be open. ”
TWO SENATE RACES WILL TAKE SHAPE TODAY: Alabamians will decide in today's runoff whether to give former attorney general Jeff Sessions a chance to retake his seat and challenge Sen. Doug Jones (D) in the fall. But Trump has rallied around former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville in one of two major Senate runoffs today. The other features two Texas Democrats, combat veteran MJ Hegar and state Sen. Royce West, with the winner to take on Sen. John Cornyn (R).
Trump's shadow looms large in Alabama: Sessions served in the Senate for two decades and was the first senator to endorse Trump. But the president has never dropped his rage over the then-AG's decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation that eventually grew into former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's probe, the New York Times's Elaina Plott reports.
- Tuberville has been running prevent defense for weeks now: “I’d like for y’all to ask Tommy Tuberville of that,” Sessions told reporters when pressed on whether he could support his rival in November, the Times reports. “What’s he going to — who’s he going to support after the runoff if he loses? Where is he? He’s not available. He’s been hiding out now for two weeks.”
- Trump stumped for the coach during a conference call with voters last night: He promised Tuberville would have a “cold, direct line into my office,” but spent most of the call bashing Sessions.
He did make one big flub though:
Tonight in a conference call with Tommy Tuberville, Trump repeatedly referred to Nick Saban as Lou Saban. "He's great, Lou Saban. What a great job he's done."— Elaina Plott (@elainaplott) July 14, 2020
The Texas Senate race poses broader questions for the GOP: “Ahead of Tuesday’s Senate primary runoff between the two, West has cast Hegar as part of the racist system he’s trying to change, while she has cast him as part of the corrupt political system she’s trying to change. The matchup crystallizes a central dilemma for Democrats: Will what worked in 2018 still work in 2020, or does the model need to shift?” Jenna Johnson reports.
- More on the contest: “With few policy differences between Hegar and West, identity has played a central role in the contest. Hegar, who narrowly lost a House race in 2018, was the first major candidate to get into the race … Soon, 11 other Democrats joined the race, including West, a black city councilwoman from Houston and two Latina activists — all of whom were angered when the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee endorsed Hegar in December.”
OTHER RACES TO WATCH:
There's a number of House runoffs, including former White House physician Ronny L. Jackson, vying to replace retiring Rep. Mac Thornberry (R): Trump also made a last-minute pitch for his former doctor last night, “He's been with us from the beginning,” the president said during a tele-town hall for Jackson, the Texas Tribune's Patrick Svitek reports. Jackson was Trump's highly unconventional pick to be Veterans Affairs secretary before withdrawing his nomination amid allegations of professional misconduct.
- The other Texas House runoff: Trump has sided with GOP House leadership in backing former Navy cryptologist Tony Gonzales to replace retiring Rep. Will Hurd (R). But Sen Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) endorsed Raul Reyes, a retired Air Force officer. Cruz said he tried to persuade the president to stay out of the contest, the Tribune reports.
Maine is the lone state holding an actual primary and not a runoff. That means we'll know Sen. Susan Collins's (R) challenger: “[Maine House Speaker Sara] Gideon is the clear favorite — in terms of visibility, money and backing of the DC-based campaign machine — but is headed into a ranked-choice primary against two more progressive Democratic candidates: lobbyist Betsy Sweet and attorney Bre Kidman,” the Portland Press Herald's Kevin Miller reports.
Empire state of losing our minds. We're still awaiting final results in New York: “The task of counting absentee ballots is arduous and time consuming,” ABC News's Brad Mielke, Kendall Karson and Alisa Wiersema report.
Outside the Beltway
CALIFORNIA SHUTTERS SOME BUSINESSES, AGAIN: “California Gov. Gavin Newsom [D] announced a dramatic rollback in the state’s reopening plan, ordering a wide swath of businesses to end indoor operations as coronavirus case numbers continued to climb in the nation’s largest state — and well beyond,” Griff Witte reports.
- What's happening: “Restaurants, wineries, movie theaters and museums were told to shut down their indoor operations, while bars were closed even for outdoor service. In hard-hit counties, hair salons, malls and fitness centers were also shuttered.”
Similar measures are taking place elsewhere: “Oregon’s governor banned gatherings of more than 10 people inside and ordered face coverings for those who venture out. The Chicago Marathon — not planned until mid-October — was canceled for only the second time in its history," our colleague writes. “Meanwhile, Miami was declared the latest ‘epicenter of the epidemic,’ and a senior medical official compared it to Wuhan at the height of China’s struggles with the virus."
- Sobering stats: “Monday’s data reflected the reality that other nations across the globe have managed to suppress the virus, but not the United States. In at least 12 states, the weekly average of new coronavirus cases increased by more than 40 percent, according to data tracked by The Washington Post … Virginia, West Virginia, Alaska, Missouri, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Minnesota all saw the average rate of new infections rise between 41 and 55 percent compared with the week of July 6.”
Fauci speaks: “We haven’t even begun to see the end of it yet,” Anthony S. Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, said during a webinar with the Stanford School of Medicine.
- The criticism is coming closer to Trump too: “I know it isn’t popular to talk about in some Republican circles, but we still have a testing problem in this country. My son was tested recently; we had to wait 5 to 7 days for results. My daughter wanted to get tested before visiting her grandparents, but was told she didn’t qualify. That is simply inexcusable at this point in the pandemic,” former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney wrote in an op-ed for CNBC.
- Meanwhile, criticism mounted over the White House's bashing of Fauci, whose realistic comments about the virus's course have irked Trump and his allies. But the doctor went to the White House yesterday after not directly communicating with Trump since June, meeting with chief of staff Mark Meadows, the Times reports.
CAMPUSES LOOK ILL PREPARED FOR STUDENTS' RETURN: “As millions go back to school during the pandemic, the ability of campus health services to safeguard and care for students will be tested as never before — and many colleges appear unprepared for the challenge,” Jenn Abelson, Nicole Dungca, Meryl Kornfield and Andrew Ba Tran report.
- The Post conducted an investigation of student health services: “To assess the landscape of student health services at roughly 1,700 four-year residential campuses, The Post interviewed more than 200 students, parents and health officials and examined thousands of pages of medical records and court documents and 5,500 reviews of student health centers posted on Google.”
What our colleagues found: “College students reported they commonly waited days or weeks for appointments and were routinely provided lackluster care. Dozens of students ended up hospitalized — and some near death — for mistakes they said were made at on-campus clinics, including misdiagnosed cases of appendicitis at Kansas State University and meningitis at the University of Arkansas.”
In the Media
WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Police found body of actress Naya Rivera: “Nearly a week after ‘Glee’ star went missing at Lake Piru in Southern California and was presumed to have drowned, officials confirmed they have recovered the body of the 33-year-old actress,” Emily Yahr reports.
Judge affirms Mary Trump can publish her tell-all: “A state court judge issued an 11th-hour ruling affirming Simon & Schuster's right to publish an explosive new book by [Trump's] niece, issuing a decision that prioritizes the First Amendment over a dated confidentiality agreement among members of the Trump family,” Shayna Jacobs reports.
“Never has arrived.”The decades leading up to the Redskins' name change: “The name has lingered over [owner Daniel] Snyder’s franchise for the entirety of his stewardship and decades before, at some moments a latent topic and at others a hotly debated issue, always present,” Adam Kilgore and Scott Allen report on how Snyder reversed his famous pledge that his franchise's name would never go away.